A year after moving to Wollongong, Jake Birtwhistle made it back-to-back Australia Day Aquathon successes with a hard fought win on Monday.
After trailing out of the water, the Tasmanian used an impressive run leg to overcome one of the strongest fields in the event’s history.
Birtwhistle stopped the clock at 35 minutes and 55 seconds - more than half a minute faster than his debut success in 2014.
His run of 22:48 was the second fastest of the day and was only bettered by eventual second-placegetter Brendan Sexton, who came home two seconds quicker.
Sexton (36:03) ran down fellow Australian Ryan Bailie (36:04) to ensure the podium positions were exactly the same as the year before.
All three placegetters are members of the Wollongong Wizards squad.
‘‘Australia Day last year was my first full day in Wollongong so it was good to get the win last year and get established I guess. Now I have come back to my home away from home so it is good to get there two years in a row,’’ Birtwhistle said.
‘‘It is a well run event and I look forward to it every year.’’
Birtwhistle trailed eventual fifth placegetter Aaron Royle out of the water, who finished the swim leg fastest with Bailie and Canadian pair Alexis LaPage (seventh) and Matt Sharpe (sixth).
He’d make up ground in the first half of the run before kicking clear with a little over a kilometre remaining.
‘‘There was a big group of us who train together every day so I know their strengths and knew I had to break a few before the sprint otherwise it could be anyone’s game,’’ Birtwhistle said.
We ran pretty hard and there was a few surges trying to split it up. I got away with about one and a bit km’s to go.’’
The win sets the platform for a big 2015 campaign for Birtwhistle ahead of next year’s Olympics in Brazil.
‘‘Rio 2016 is what a lot of people are focusing on getting selected for this year and it is kind of in the back of my mind,’’ Birtwhistle said.
‘‘I just have to keep ticking boxes and if it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t I am still young.’’
Canadian Tyler Mislawchuk was the first international to cross the line when he finished fourth in a time of 36:07.
World champion Gwen Jorgensen put on another masterclass to secure a hat-trick of wins in the women’s Australia Day Aquathon on Monday.
The 28-year-old American rarely looked troubled when she raced to victory in a time of 39 minutes 13 seconds, adding to her wins in 2012 and 2013.
Canadian duo Ellen Pennock (39:43) and Amelie Kretz (39:44) fought out the minor placings with Pennock just edging her compatriot in the final straight.
They were no match for Jorgensen though, who finished half a minute clear of her nearest rivals.
‘‘We have been training together for a month now up in Falls Creek and it is great to come back to Wollongong. I call this my second home and it is fun to come here and race,’’ Jorgensen said.
‘‘It is great competition with all the Wizards. It is an international field which is really hard so great to come out and have a good hit out.
‘‘I was really surprised. I had a good swim and then I just tried to hold it together on the run.’’
Jorgensen’s convincing win ensures she continues in the form from her career-best season which saw her dominate the ITU World Triathlon Series.
She secured five event wins on the way to claiming her first world title in 2014.
Her next goal will be to chase an Olympic gold medal in 2016.
‘‘The big goal for the year is to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games,’’ Jorgensen said.
‘‘We have a qualifying event this year in August so that will be the target.’’
Like many of the international athletes in Monday’s field, Jorgensen is a member of the Wollongong Wizards triathlon club as were the day’s other placegetters Pennock and Kretz.
Pennock’s runner-up finish was an improvement on her third placing in the same event last year.
‘‘I was really happy with how I ran,’’ Pennock said.
‘‘Me and Amelie Kretz from Canada are teammates and we ran the whole way together.
‘‘It was good to have that companionship. In the last kilometre I had a little bit left and kicked in for the finish.’’
‘‘Congratulations to Gwen and Amelie and all the Wollongong Wizards.’’
Charlotte McShane (40:51) was the first Australian competitor to finish when she came home in fourth with Natalie Van Coevorden (41:20) rounding out the top-five.